BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Editor's note: There are descriptions of alleged sexual abuse and opinions about survivors of alleged abuse that may be triggering to abuse survivors.
A Christian minister with ties to a Getzville megachurch and a popular Cattaraugus County youth camp stands accused of sexual misconduct with teen girls -- but he denies the allegations.
At least 21 women have come forward to lawyers hired by The Chapel at Crosspoint to probe allegations of inappropriate touching and contact with girls by Wayne Aarum, a former employee of The Chapel who worked there in the 1990s.
“It is important for you to know that both The Chapel leadership and MinistrySafe have found the allegations to be credible, and we continue to stand with those who have courageously come forward,” Chapel leadership said Friday in a statement posted to the church’s website. Click here to read the full statement from The Chapel.
Many of the allegations, which have been reported by Chapel leadership to the State Office of Children and Family Services, deal with alleged conduct occurring at the Circle C Ranch youth camp in Delevan, where Aarum serves as president.
Aarum, whose family has run the camp for decades and who is also listed as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Arcade, denied the allegations in an interview with 7 Eyewitness News.
“No,” he said when asked whether he ever touched anyone inappropriately. “I have zero recollection of that. I can honestly say no.”
Aarum said that he met a year ago with John Camardo, executive pastor at The Chapel, and Camardo told him that he was accused of “abuse of spiritual authority and inappropriate interactions” but refused to more clearly define those charges.
“I still don’t know, although they have accused me and pretty much condemned me, I don’t know what I’m accused of,” Aarum said. “We’ve asked for any information they can give us...they’ve given us nothing,” Aarum said.
Aarum also said that neither he nor campers or staffers who supported him were contacted by MinistrySafe, a Texas-based company that conducts investigations for multiple Christian denominations. The Chapel first hired MinistrySafe in 2019 to improve its policies after unrelated sexual abuse allegations at its Lockport worship site were reported by The Buffalo News in 2019.
Chapel leaders say they began hearing “troubling allegations” about Aarum in October 2019 and again in February 2020. In October 2020, they hired MinistrySafe founder Kimberlee Norris, who completed her investigation in December 2020.
A detailed report written by Norris to State Children and Family Services officials was given Sunday to the 21 women who came forward. A copy of the report, which was obtained by 7 Eyewitness News, stated:
“In the course of the MinistrySafe investigation, these behaviors were communicated:
-stroking legs (outside clothing and on bare skin)
-stroking genital area- outside clothing
-touching vaginal area- outside clothing (in shorts or jeans)
-touching, rubbing and stroking breasts, outside clothing
-stroking labia, outside clothing
-stroking from hips to breasts, clothed, on the side of the body
-touching legs and knees
-hand placed on upper thigh
-pressing penis into back of girl (hugging from behind)
-rubbing penis repeatedly in a girl’s presence
-extended hug of a partially dressed girl"
The report stated that 27 people came forward to corroborate some of the alleged behaviors, including “hand rubbing inside of thigh...failing to honor preference NOT to be touched” and “meeting 1/1 with girls late into the night.”
Leaders at The Chapel said they, through MinistrySafe, also reported the allegations to law enforcement.
“Both of the local jurisdictions that were contacted in this investigation had determined that, given the passage of time (in some cases) or the nature of non-criminal allegations (in others), the allegations are not believed to be subject to criminal prosecution,” they stated on The Chapel website.
Cattaraugus County Sheriff's officials confirmed that they are investigating the matter. Amherst Police officials did not respond to an inquiry by 7 Eyewitness News, but Daryl DeKalb, a board member at Circle C Ranch, said “none of that is true” and defended Aarum.
DeKalb suggested that the allegations were part of a campaign by Chapel leaders to acquire the youth camp.
“There is absolutely no credibility to any of these things,” Dekalb said. “I worked in the ministry, my wife and I have worked in this ministry, all of those same years that they’re talking about. We never saw anything even approaching this.”
Dekalb appeared to place blame on the women who have come forward, even though leaders at The Chapel have described them as credible and courageous.
“It’s all lightweight stuff they’re bringing up anyway,” Dekalb said. “It’s common for women as they get along in life...to see how their lives are not going well and when they sit down, like with a social worker...and they start hearing stuff from a social worker that says to them, ‘Well, have you ever had something in your life where maybe this is set off, the condition that you’re in now?’ I mean, none of these women had any complaints at all until they were contacted by this group and suggestions were made to them.”
In a written statement issued Friday, Circle C Ranch leadership also suggested that "false memories" could have been planted in accusers' minds. Click here to read the statement from Circle C Ranch. Click here to read the internal investigation report provided by Circle C Ranch.
But 7 Eyewitness News spoke with a former employee at the youth camp who said she has spoken with one of the alleged survivors. The former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared retribution from Aarum’s family, said the woman came forward because Aarum still has access to kids through his work at Circle C Ranch.
“I think she is in a place in her life where she’s ready to come forward,” the former employee said. “They initiated the whole process because she wanted [him] not to be able to work with kids anymore. I think she and other survivors felt responsible to bring it to light.”
The former employee said she never recognized Aarum’s interaction with girls as inappropriate while she worked there as a teen. But now that she is an adult, she said she would describe the interactions with girls as “intimate” and a form of “grooming.”
“I think some of it, as an adult looking back, it crossed a line,” she said.
She said upon receiving the letter that was sent by MinistrySafe to survivors on Sunday, she has been “sick to my stomach ever since.”
“I’m not the type of person to spread things around just to ruin someone,” she said.
But she said that it is important that parents be aware of the allegations when making decisions about their kids.
She said, “If they're thinking of sending their children there this summer, I want people to know.”
If you are an abuse survivor, or you would like to share your experiences about the events described above, please send an email to Charlie.Specht@wkbw.com or Hannah.Buehler@wkbw.com.